Years ago, a reader mentioned (while I was doing the SNAP challenge for my masters program) that one of her favorite inexpensive meals was a stir fry of rice and lentils with a peanut butter sauce. It sounded simple and delicious, and it became the inspiration for this dish, which is now a weeknight favorite.
The suggestion, and the meal that it resulted in, had a domino affect. Various combinations of skillet-warmed rice and lentil dinners have become a staple in my home. It’s the bean, grain, and green meal template idea, with lentils as the bean. I like to vary the lentils I use (brown, green, beluga), try different spices and seasonings, and play around with sauces and dressings to top it with. Dinners don’t really get more nutritious, cost-effective, or easy, especially if I’ve cooked the rice and lentils ahead of time, or if I’m using canned lentils. (These days, honestly, I often am.)
This not-recipe recipe is just another variation on the combination I like so much. I wouldn’t call this mujaddara, since it doesn’t come close to having that dish’s deeply caramelized onions or socarrat (the delightfully crispy rice at the bottom of the pan). But mujaddara is a loose source of inspiration for the meal. I don’t caramelize the onions that go into the recipe, but I do brown them a bit more than I usually would. And I add cumin and coriander, which are characteristic Middle Eastern spices, if not included in all mujaddara recipes.
I like to top earthy dishes like this one with a bright, tart dressing. The dressing that probably gets more love than any other in Power Plates is my Everyday Lemon Tahini Dressing; the title is a slight exaggeration, but not by much. I make a batch of it nearly every week, and once it’s made I use it almost daily. Here, it adds just the right creaminess and acidity to balance the savoriness of onions and spices. And as an added bonus, it can be whisked together in minutes.
Cumin Spiced Lentils and Rice with Every Day Lemon Tahini Dressing
- 1 tablespoon neutral flavored vegetable oil, such as safflower or grapeseed
- 1 large or 2 small white or yellow onions, sliced thinly
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 small bunch kale, collards, or another leafy green, stems removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces (about 4 packed cups of greens)
- 3 cups cooked, long-grain brown rice (1 cup dry)
- 1 1/2 cups cooked brown lentils (1 can lentils, drained and rinsed, or 2/3 cups dry lentils, cooked)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, more to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the Everyday Lemon Tahini Dressing:
- 1 ⁄4 cup tahini
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated on a microplane
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon agave nectar or maple syrup, optional
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
- To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup and whisk until evenly blended. If the dressing is thicker than you’d like, whisk in water by the tablespoonful to achieve the desired consistency. (Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the dressing will keep for 1 week.)
- Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet or pot over medium heat. Add the onions. Cook the onions, stirring them often, for about 10-12 minutes, or until they're a nice, golden brown. Add the cumin and coriander and stir; then, add the kale. Cook the kale until it's tender, stirring often (about 5 minutes).
- Add the rice and lentils to the skillet, along with the lemon juice. Heat everything through. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper to your liking. Divide onto plates and top with Everyday Lemon Tahini Dressing.
I love using rice here, but the dish would work with farro, barley, bulgur, or even millet. Whatever you choose, it’s worth having the grain or the lentils are both prepared ahead of time if you’d like dinner to come together in just minutes.
As far as serving goes, I sometimes add a few wedges of whole wheat pita to the plate so that I can scoop up every last bite of the mixture (and whatever dressing is on the plate!). You can serve the lentils and rice as a side dish, along with a big salad and some grilled or baked tofu or tempeh, or you could make it a main dish along with some veggies: roasted beets, broccoli, and cauliflower all work really nicely with it! It’s also lovely with a cup of soup at this time of year; I especially like to have it with this carrot soup (chickpeas optional, since there’s plenty of legume action going on here already).
My new rotation of the dietetic internship has begun, and since I started with low energy, I’ve kept my meal prep humble and streamlined in the last week and a half. This dish has been a perfect addition to the mix (the leftovers are pretty great hot or cold, though with freezing temperatures in NYC right now, the hotter the better).
I hope you’ll find it easy and appealing, too—and I’m wishing you all a great week ahead.